Time for the difficult questions: Why do you work out?

Last week, for the first time in six years, I went back to the gym. Through my cosplay work I got in touch with a personal trainer with a weight neutral approach. No weigh-ins or diet plans but a focus on being active and moving your body for an hour or so. When he asked me if I wanted to do a quick work-out with him (he refuses to call it working out and calls it ‘playtime’ instead), I genuinely needed a moment (or five) to think it over.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve always had a complicated relationship with working out.

I wonder if this sounds familiar to you…

I can still see myself walking into the gym. I was cursing my life and myself as I headed in, ready to torture myself for 1,5 hours.

The tv screens around me displayed plenty of ‘helpful’ quotes to help fuel my own disgust for my body.

“Sweat is weakness leaving the body.”

“We must suffer for beauty.”

“Being fat is hard. Exercise is hard. Choose your hard.” (I’m not making this stuff up, you guys)

It didn’t matter that my vision went dark as soon as I stood up. It didn’t matter how badly my body was aching. Pain was a part of the process, it was a good sign. If you’re not sweating, it’s not working. I’d eaten too much. I was too much. I had to lose weight. My body HAD to become thinner.

Exercise was the perfect way to punish myself. Punish myself for a body that wasn’t good enough. Not thin enough, not tight enough, not strong enough, not good enough. I’ve spent countless hours torturing myself this way.

It took me years to try and repair my damaged relationship with exercise. Judging by the stories from the people around me and my coaches, I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Obviously, working out is good for you. There are plenty of studies that show that an active lifestyle is the best way to improve your health and wellness. Active people are healthier than those living a sedentary lifestyle, regardless of weight. [1]

Moving your body is good for you! I’d never dream of telling you to quit exercising (I’m not a fan of telling people what they must do with their bodies anyway).
However, it is useful to examine why you want to work out!

Are you working out to compensate for everything you’ve eaten? Are you working out because you feel that you’ve eaten too much? Do you get anxious if you haven’t exercised for a week because you’re afraid you’ll get fat? (Incidentally, research doesn’t show that people who regularly exercise lose significant amounts of weight[2][3][4])

Do you feel a sinking feeling in your stomach before you have to leave for the gym? Or are you, while working out, already thinking about the food you’re ‘allowed’ to eat now since you’ve ‘been good’ and worked out? Do you regularly overexert yourself to the point of almost blacking out? Or is your sole motivation for moving your body that you feel that you’ve eaten too much?

If the shape and size of your body wasn’t such an issue, would you still be working out?

Oh, and my work-out? It was wonderful! Whereas in the past I would have mostly been focused on my looks (“What does my body look like when I move around like this? Don’t my legs look super fat when I squat? Isn’t there too much wobbling when I jump? What can I eat when I’m done?), I was now able to focus on the movement, making stupid jokes with my trainer and dragging around heavy bags of sand (yes, seriously). I look forward to discovering more about my new relationship with exercise!

Do you have any questions for me regarding this article or would you like to meet up? Feel free to contact me!

Thanks to JemfitNL for the nice workout!

[1] Blair, Steven N., et al. “Body Weight Change, All-Cause Mortality and Cause-Specific Mortality in the Multiple, Risk Factor Intervention Trial,” Annals of Internal Medicine 119 (1993): 749-57

[2] Linda Bacon, MD. Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, Benbella Books inc, 2008, p. 51

[3] Wilmore, Jack H. et al. “Alterations in Body Weight and Composition Consequent to 20 wk of Endurance Training. The Heritage Family Study.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 70, no. 3 (1999) 717-26

[4] Miller, Wayne C., D.M. Koceja and E.J. Hamilton “A Meta-Analysis of the Past 25 Years of Weight Loss Research Using Diet, Exercise or Diet Plus Exercise Intervention.” International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 21. No. 10 (1997) 941-47

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